A dancer profile, in a very different kind of way today. It wouldn’t be fair for dancehealthier to ask Kirsten Evans a brilliant writer and blogger from setting the barre (featured recently on WordPress freshly pressed) to answer multiple questions with just a few sentences. Instead, dancehealthier asked her to dive deep and do just what she has so easily demonstrated on her own blog – to write from her heart. So please enjoy her lovely column on today’s conversation Wednesday. This is why Kirsten Evans dances, and I couldn’t agree with her more, as I’m sure many of you do too.
By Kirsten Evans
Almost every time I am introduced to a friend of a friend, out at a Brown or RISD party, the standard greeting I am met with is, Oh, the ballerina, right? This opening question is always asked in a conflicted half rhetorical, half disbelieving way, to which I am forced to mask my blushing cheeks and muffle the awkwardness of my “er, yes, it’s sort of like a normal job sometimes, I swear” response. And the conversation takes off in a million different directions from there. Sometimes people are intrigued and want to know how I got into ballet, how many hours the company rehearses a week, and which ballet we will be performing next. Other times my new acquaintances are less versed in the art form, meaning they’ll ask me questions like do you go up on your toes? and so you just get to dance around all day and get paid for it? (insert annoyed eye roll from interrogator here), which is usually followed by requests that I “show them some moves” (exactly what I came to this party to do, right?). Either way, the point is that being a professional ballet dancer often defines me, whether I want it to or not. This is not entirely bad, I mean, I’m passionate about dance and believe that training in ballet every day has taught me more life lessons than I’ve ever learned in an ordinary classroom, but it does bring to light a certain question of my own; Despite my automatic outside world classification of “ballet girl who doesn’t go to school full time like the rest of us”, I am still a person just like anyone else, who has her own preferences and makes her own decisions. So the question I ask myself is, why ballet? With everything else out there, what is it that compels me to dance?
I could run down a long list of things that inspire me: my fellow company dancers, seeing live performances, learning about the history of a certain ballet, dancer or choreographer, taking in all other forms of art whenever possible (I love spending an afternoon at the RISD art museum, MFA in Boston or admiring my boyfriend’s incredible drawings), but none of these would actually reveal why my brain, heart and soul tell my body to plié, pirouette or balance in attitude. So what is it? Discipline and reward. Anyone who studies ballet, even on a recreational level, can tell you that ballet is really, really hard. On the outside we are smiling, sparkling fairies with tiaras on our heads and tutus on our hips, floating across a glittering stage on the tips of the dance world’s most coveted and mysterious footwear- the pointe shoe. But on the inside, we are panting, counting, sweating in regions of our bodies cleverly disguised in tulle, crying each time that blister on our pinky toe rubs against its non-protective toe pad or that pulled groin muscle stretches just a bit too far in ecarté. If you are not a dancer, you’re probably starting to think ballet sounds pretty horrible and wondering why one would even consider submitting themselves to such a celebrated form of torture. But if you’ve ever become completely lost in the moment, the lights, the music and the movement onstage, then you know exactly what I’m talking about…exactly why I dance.
There is little that can be compared to the high you feel while assertively flapping your arms in perfect time with the rest of your flock, running round the chaotic circle of the swan corps at the end of Act IV of Swan Lake, or after nailing the second of two tricky double pirouettes with a Spanish flare you never knew you possessed in the Land of Sweets during The Nutcracker. Perhaps even more gratifying is taking a bow center stage following your first – and only – performance as Solo Girl in Balanchine’s Agon, a ballet whose intricate Stavinsky counts you’ve been feverishly attempting to master for months now, one that has gifted you with nightmares several nights leading up to the opening, and during the entire first half of which you contract such a strong, surprising bought of stage fright you seriously consider running offstage in tears and getting sick into the trashcan. Ballet is one of the few professions on this earth that has such a strong sense of physical exertion and emotional reward. Because once you feel that temporary high, even if it lasts for only a mere minute and a half variation, you become addicted.
My roommate and I were discussing last night how ballet, while resembling many professional sports in physicality and endurance, is the only “sport” that requires its athletes to show none of their effort whatsoever, and instead showcase appropriate artistry, emotional depth, and often a sense of ease and comfort. Dance is different not because it is any easier on the body, but because it demands its vessel move their audience. And when you do, there is no feeling like it.